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Buddhist Approach to Marketing

I ended up in the small incense bazar at Indra Chowk crossroads in Kathmandu, as I remembered a number of incense sellers from previous days of wandering around the city. The simple wooden booths were simple and functional with no frills. Western tourist generally never buy anything here, as it is a local bazaar for Nepali people and not in a tourist center. It has some trailer to Durbar Square which used to be the Hippie tourist center in the 60's, but few tourist stay there now. The tourist center had moved some years ago to the Thamel neighborhood across town and Durbar square was being slowly abandoned.

Be that as it may, I preferred to stay in the Durbar (Palace) Square area because of the old King's palace and magnificent Pagota Temples. It is atmospheric beyond belief although a little funky with no real quality hotels or restaurants. I'm always willing to sacrifice comfort for culture, so it's only Durbar Square for me.

The incense sellers did not speak english, but that has never been a barrier to making a deal. There are many tribes in Nepal with different dress & languages. These groups regularly converge on Kathmandu to find things in the market bazaar to take back to their villages. Hense sign language is commonly used for bargaining in the bazar. I had become familiar with it.

I had been in Nepal for a couple months. By this time, I had also learned a few thing about barter and could get the price down a bit with the old walk away technique. A Nepali seller in the bazar will never miss an opportunity for making some money from a customer. He will put on the most sad face, look depressed and say that he's losing money, but in the end if you walk away you will get your price. Generally about 10 convincing steps will do.

Do not worry, they never loose money. It took me the longest time to figure out that it was a bargaining tool for them to fault loss.

The great advantage that I had was Nepali's are convinced that westerners can not bargain, so when you walk away they really believe you are leaving. In truth, I'm sure I have never made a deal as good as a Nepali person could, but I do better then most westerners. Bargaining is an art and very enjoyable to most bazar sellers.

Westerners fail to realize that bargaining is a social institution, not just to make more money on a deal, but because they enjoy the game. It test your merit and resolve, not to mention acting skills. A good bargain will often attract a hundred or more spectators in the market place especially if it involves a westerner. We are a source of non-stop entertainment.

I picked out a number of different incense varieties to try. All of them were Tibetan. A large portion of Nepal was Tibet historically and the cultures are well blended especially after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Now large number of Tibetan refugees living in Kathmandu. There are also some major Buddhist pilot sites in Nepal like Bodinath & Syambu Stupas that have been there for centuries.

As it is, Tibetans seem to be the producers of most of the incense and that what I wanted anyway. Here on my first trip to Nepal I had a cornucopia of crafts and exotic product to choose for export. How does one decide? What would I specialize in?

The answer was simple. It came from a intuition and a commitment to the Buddhist precept of 'Right Livelihood'. I wanted to follow my Dharma (natural life direction) and do something that related to my life. I therefore decided to focus on exporting Tibetan Sacred and Ritual items which were attuned to my Spiritual practices. As a long time meditator involved in Eastern Spirituality, it felt good to focus on Buddhist oriented and nothing was more basic then Tibetan Incense.

I took the incense samples back to my humble room in the City View Hotel (which did not have a view) and burned them over the next few days.

Tibetan Incense is very different then Indian Incense. I've seen them make Indian Incense. You may be surprised to know that the main ingredient is cow dung on a wood stick. Yes, cow shit! It is used as a bace for Indian incense and then you dip it in a perfumed oil for the aroma. The oils are often derived from synthetic chemicals.

In contrast, Tibetan Incense has no stick. It is pure herbs from the Himalayan mountains. When you burn it the scent is spicy, not sweet. The herbs are chosen for specific Spiritual Qualities that they invoke, but then for aroma alone.

Some of the herbs in Tibetan Incense are for clearing a space of negative impacts. Other herbs are to create a calm feeling for meditation. The most popular one these days is the herbal Tibetan Healing Incense formula that was found in the ancient Tibetan Medical Scriptures.

Almost all the incense samples I choose from the Bazar had merit, so I ordered several dozen of each variety. In fact, I ordered so much that I had to employ a couple of porters to carry the incense back to my export agent for packing.

It's funny how it worked out. The first time, I hired a couple of old men with skinny legs to carry these big bundles. I bargained them to about 10 rupees (5 cents) to carry the bundles about a mile. No, I'm not a cheap skate, that was actually their normal rate.

When we got to the cargo I paid the porters double, which strangely enough freaked out and made them very uncomfortable. A cultural mistake on my part and confusing to them. Weird, but true. Do not mess with people cultural reality. In Nepal, people know the value of a rupee and it's not to be thrown around lightly. It was a lesson for me. These were hard working men and they did not expect a handout or tip. I think I insulted them.

As the incense business grew I was finding more creative ways to bring the incense to my cargo agent. The next time I hired an ox cart and rode a top the pile of incense like a Maharaja. It was fun, but a bit embarrassing.

Finally, as our quantities grew, I came up with the idea that they could deliver it to the cargo agent. Why did not I think of that sooner? I also started having the cargo agents pay the vendors, rather them me carry around loads of cash. People in Nepal do not use check or credit cards. Things were getting easier.

A few years down the road, a Tibetan friend of mine named Sonam told me to visit Lucky Incense Store in the Thamel to buy Tibetan Incense directly. This small narrow space turned out to be the source of Tibetan Healing Incense.

Up until now all of my business had been through the cargo agent who bought from the street bazar sellers. I never thought of looking for the source. Another oversite on my part, as I was now importing thousands of packs of incense on a regular basis.

Lucky Incense was run by a father and son team. The son would run the shop since his english was good. He was a cheerful and pleasant Tibetan boy about seventeen named Tsewang Norbu. His father was kind of a suspicious dour gentlemen with a weary looking face. I explained to his son that I was actually the largest buyer of the Healing Incense and would like to go directly with him.

Tsewang was happy to reveal that his uncle Pasang Yonten Arya Tendi Sherpa was the Tibetan Doctor who actually found the Healing Incense formula in the ancient Tibetan Medical Scriptures.

I placed a large incense order with Tsewang and had to explain convincingly to his father that I was 'for real'. His father did not expect such good fortune and was refusing to believe that I was the person responsible for selling so much of there Tibetan Healing Incense. It was interesting for me to see how much a person can color there reality to not accept good fortune, even if the name of their shop is "Lucky Incense".

Tsewang cave me the address and email of his famous uncle. I was thrilled to be able to contact Dr. Arya to find our more about how he discovered Tibet Healing Incense.

Upon, my return to America my first business was to contact Dr. Arya. He had previously been in Dharamsala, India working & studying at the Tibetan Medical Institute of the Tibetan Government in Exile. Now, Dr. Arya was practicing Tibetan Medicine in Italy. I sent him an email to ask for his story.

Dr. Arya sent me a cautious reply wanting to know more about me before agreeing to tell me about his self. I did not bother with any business or marketing credentials to glorify our success with his Healing Incense. He was a Tibetan Doctor, so what does he care about business?

I wrote him details of my Spiritual credentials. I told him of the years of daily meditation and Buddhist studies. Iave him the website to look over and told him that we contribute to many Tibetan relief organizations.

That satisfied Dr. Arya and a rich tapestry of his life unfolded through magic of cyberspace. Here is a brief summary:

Dr. Pasang Yonten Arya Tendi Sherpa was born in a village called Dolpo in Kyidong Valley of Tibet in 1955. He escaped to Nepal over the dangerous mountain pass of Rasuwa Ghiri when he was only 10 years old in 1965.

Dr. Arya's traditional Tibetan education and Buddhist Spiritual practices were under the Tutelage of the Enlightened Master Geshe Gowo Lopsang Tenzin. As he grew older and more accomplished his master sent him to study at the Tibetan Medical Institute in Dharamsala, India where the His Holiness The Tibetan Dalai Lama has his residence.

In Dharamsala, Dr. Arya studied the Tibetan Healing Arts with his new masters: Prof. Barshee Phuntsog Wangyel, Dr. Jamyan Tashi and Lady Dr. Lopsang Dolma. By the age of 23 he attained a degree in Medicine and Astrology and then went to advanced studies in Tibetan Pharmacology. It was here that he discovered the formula for Tibetan Healing Incense while studying the ancient Tibetan Medical Scriptures. Tibetan Healing Incense was born.

Dr. Arya went on to write books on Tibet Medicine and founded The New Yuthok Institute of Tibetan Medicine in Milan, Italy in 1999, where he now resides and works. He is an amazing person and has instrumental in bringing the wisdom of Tibetan Culture to the world.

As for our part, we redesigned the package of Dr. Arya's Tibetan Healing Incense to make it a little more distinct. The original pack was very plain with small block letters as if it came off a shelf in a pharmacy. We only made simple tasteful changes to the package design. We wanted to maintain the Tibetan Healing Incense original character and not glamorize it in a Western marketing style.

Our marketing program could be summed up as happenstance. I knew a couple of people in the Incense business. One was Incense Works in Hawaii and the other was Prasad Gifts in the Midwest.

I went to see David the owner of Incense Works while I was on vacation. David is a laid back old hippie with a great business sense. He had developed the largest incense wholesale business in America and still lived in paradise on the island of Maui. You got to admire his style!

We visited his warehouse in the Kahalui industrial park on Maui. David was an amiable open minded person and we stuck a deal. I think David is one of those people who bases his decisions on personal relationships. Stopping by to see him made it easy for us to connect personally. It made all the difference. We were very like minded people and happy to do business together.

Incense Works has sold the Tibetan Healing Incense & others ever since to around 3000 stores. David once told me he could get the incense directly and he has lots of other suppliers for similar product, but the reason he buys from us, is that we make it easy. On another occasion, one of Incense Works managers passed on a comment that David told him. He said, he likes us because were plain "Good People". I think that's an honorable reason to work with someone. I wish we all had the same motivation to put relationships ahead of pure hardcore business.

How many times has some one done something wrong and tried to explain that "It's not personal, just business." What kind of world have we created from that philosophy? It's time to reverse that idea and make all business personal, Dharma oriented, ….. and as Buddha prescribes in his Eight Fold Path to Enlightenment: "Right Livelihood"

Prasad Gifts was a bit more relevant to do the Tibetan Incense. They told me "no" initially and I have no idea what changed their minds. I accepted that "no" and that was the end of it for me, but I think I must have mentioned that Incense Works of Hawaii was doing well with it.

Buddhist non-attachment makes it easy to be very casual with no hard sell. I think that's probably what opened the door for us at Prasad. We let existence happen and pretty soon got a call back with a big order for Tibetan Incense.

Sometime being a non-aggressive Buddhist business mays seem self defeating. It may not seem like the fastest road to success. It may even seem counter productive, but I guess that it depends on what kind of success your looking for. Letting go is not much of a marketing plan, but it works pretty good and was really stress free.

If you believe life is a struggle, then maybe fighting is your Dharma, but I do not think that's true for most people. It's just the world has conditioned us to struggle. We have an opportunity now to take it to a higher level.

Prasad Gifts distributed our Tibetan Healing Incense to about 2000 stores and it was very well received.

Tibetan Healing Incense is now the most popular Tibetan Incense in the world. It outsells every other type of Tibetan Incense two to one.

It did not get that way through clever strategy or manipulative marketing. It got that way way following Dharma and practicing 'Right Livelihood'. How short is life and how precious time. Consider using it in a new way.

All the Sages, Saints, and Prophets say the same thing: You Create Your Own Reality. We all have an opportunity now to be successful and fulfill Dharma. We do not have to sacrifice who we are to survive. Buddhism says that it is all inter-related. I have discovered this to be true in my own life and business success. All of existence is backing you when you work with natural law. The universe is just waiting for you to say "Yes" and then the doors will start opening.

Tashi Delek (Good Luck in Tibetan)

By Maite Burn

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